Four-year-old Madison Faler is pretty in pink, fun-loving -- and tough.

Once a veritable Shirley Temple, today the girl's bouncing, blonde curls are gone. The lack of hair tells the tale of a battle with medulla blastoma, a highly malignant brain tumor that originates in the cerebellum.

"She's a fighter," said ReneƩ McAnulty, a friend of Madi's aunt, Michelle Barnes, whose family serves as the youngster's guardians, caregivers and angels of hope. "The hospital was done, but then she came back."

Sadly, there may be sound reason for Madi's health care team to be pessimistic.

"The situation now is not very good," McAnulty said. "She has seizures every day. The tumor is basically suffocating her brain. There's just speckles everywhere."

Last summer, the girl was a picture of health. She enjoyed going to Disneyland, went camping and happily played outside. Then, last September, Madi began stumbling into walls and stuttering her words. The next month she began throwing up.

At first, the family was comforted when doctors said it was probably a simple inner-ear infection and to "keep an eye on it." But symptoms worsened, and so did the family's worries.

Madi was taken to Loma Linda Hospital where she was diagnosed with the cancer. Her first surgery was thought successful when the cancer was removed. An MRI several months later came back clean.

Then the cancer returned.

Doctors tried chemotherapy and radiation, but nothing was successful. The cancer was more virulent than ever, and so doctors recommended the family take their girl home. But at home, Madi began experiencing severe pain and was unable to walk due to pressure caused by spinal tumors.

"Madison is in pain. She's in severe pain," McAnulty said. "Why does a baby have to go through so much pain."

So she went back to Loma Linda. The girl started to experience seizures. One time her oxygen level dipped to only 10 percent of normal. Her family was told to start making arrangements.

But Madi bounced back, not only breathing but talking like a normal little girl.

New hope
Despite the odds, the family wants to take their girl to a doctor in Oregon who believes a clinical trial treatment could provide hope for Madi. According to the doctor's plan, a tube would be inserted into her hip that would go all the way into her brain. The treatment would allow the chemotherapy to reach her tumors.

But her initial treatment would be $250,000 with just 70 percent covered by the family's health insurance. That means the family would have to come with $75,000 and then another $5,000 every four weeks for additional treatments.

"The family is the most amazing family," McAnulty said. "Michelle sees the brighter side to everything."

And so does Madi. According to McAnulty, the girl continues to embrace life to its fullest.

"She said, `I want to get better because I want to go to Disneyland in a pink dress when I'm better.'"

Material supplied by Relay for Life helped in the development of this story.